Thursday, 19 August 2010

Substance misusing parents

Earlier this week the NSPCC reported that more than 4,000 children called Childline during the last 12 months worried about their parents’ drinking or drug habits. 35% of the callers reported physical abuse, three times more than other children and 20% mentioned family conflict. Children as young as 5 also spoke about having to look after siblings or their own parents.

The government’s own figures show that parental substance misuse is an issue in 49% of all child protection plans nationally and 75% of all serious case reviews. Drug and alcohol misuse by parents and the effects of domestic violence on children are significant concerns for everyone working with families.

The Children North East Hidden Harm service works intensively with families where parental substance misuse, mental health or domestic violence affects parenting and children are at risk of harm. Our Hidden Harm workers are highly qualified practitioners who can help bring about lasting positive change in families in crisis. We do this by working intensively with the whole family in their own home – parents and children several hours a day for four to six weeks using a range of techniques. Our Hidden Harm service is available from 7.30 am to 8 pm for 7 days a week; and in exceptional cases throughout the night.

The work is tailored to the needs of the family but focuses on child safety, coping strategies, practical support to establish routines, managing stress and anger. After the initial intensive period we continue to follow up for at least 12 months providing additional support as necessary. Feedback is very important so Hidden Harm workers write to the family after every visit, and send copies of those letters to the referrer (usually a social worker) building up a comprehensive picture of family life.

The Hidden Harm service can also save Councils money by keeping children safely at home with their parents instead of being taken into care. On average it costs a Council £36,653 a year to look after each child in care. The Children North East Hidden Harm service costs a fraction of that for a whole family.

It is important that issues affecting children are brought to public attention but the NSPCC and other big children's charities are all guilty of scaremongering especially in summer when there is not a lot of other news about. But they rarely say what can and is being done, the Children North East Hidden Harm service is already actively working with families to reduce and reverse the harm that parental substance misuse has on children.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Brilliant news and optimism

In June we were invited to London to present to the committee of an important charitable trust and ask them for a large donation towards the capital costs of the WEYES building project. Yesterday I was delighted to take a phone call to say we have been awarded the grant. This is absolutely wonderful news. We are extremely grateful to the trust for their generosity. We have applied to other charities as well but this was the biggest one. It's a huge boost to our finances and our morale. It makes us feel optimistic that other applications will be successful too.

We need optimism just now. We sent over 50 packs of information about our Hidden Harm services to potential referrers in different parts of the region this week. The Hidden Harm team have worked hard on the packs and who to send them to. They know their jobs depend on attracting referrals from other places but they have a first class service that really works all they need is the confidence to tell people about it. It does not come easily to us charity folk to sell ourselves, it feels like bragging. We prefer to quietly get on with doing a good job of helping people. I think if we can only get to meet potential referrers they will be impressed by the quality and commitment of the team and have confidence in them to deliver what they promise and have already demonstrated.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Keeping the service going

A couple of weeks ago I talked about having to tell all the staff in one of our services that they faced redundancy due to the unexpected early end to a contract we had with a local authority. Since then everyone has been working hard to keep the service going. The local authority concerned has said it is an effective and useful service. We have data to show we have saved the local authority double what our service costs by actively preventing children from being taken into care (the former DCSF worked out it costs on average a local authority £36,635 a year to look after one child in care). Last week we met senior Councillors and explained the decision to end the service makes no financial or moral sense and suggested they purchase it from us one family at a time. So far we have not had a reply to that suggestion.

We know that many of the other local authorities in the region do not have a similar service for families of children at risk whose parents misuse drugs or alcohol, have mental health problems or there is domestic violence. Nationally significant parental substance misuse is a fact in 49% of all child protection plans. So we think there is fair chance that other local authorities would be interested in purchasing our specialist service for some of these particularly worrying families. We have found the names and addresses of key people in all those local authorities and put together a pack of information for them. Those marketing packs will be posted tomorrow. Next we will be phoning all those people and arranging to meet them to explain how the service can help families they know at a realistic price.

At the same time our Board of Trustees has been asked to underwrite the cost of the service until the end of December to give it a chance to attract referrals paid for by other local authorities. It has been a very busy couple of weeks but we feel hopeful that this approach will work. If it works it could be a way of sustaining some of our other services too.